How the switch from frozen to fresh catapulted My Muscle Chef to the forefront of ready meals market
Retailers have focused on capitalising on Australia’s $4.7 billion convenience game over the last 12 months as time-poor consumers seek quick and easy food options.
Through a partnership with BP, David Jones brought its high-end food offering to a fuel-convenience format, while Woolworths and Caltex teamed up on a Metro store at the servo.
The key focus for these retailers and for FMCG brands is the balance of health and convenience. Hot meat pies and sandwiches are no longer enough. Consumers are looking for healthy options across ready-to-eat, ready-to-heat, snacks and groceries.
So what are the opportunities for FMCG brands? While most brands have made efforts to cut sugar and reduce fat, consumers want assurances that they haven’t just been replaced with another “nasty”.
“Naturalness” should be the focus here. More than half (57 per cent) of consumers in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region have become attentive to natural ingredients in products and it is influencing their shopping behaviour, with consumers casting a critical eye over the ingredient list and product claims before they purchase.
My Muscle Chef (MMC) started off as a side hustle for Tushar Menon and his brother, but the fast-growing ready-meal business has since gained a cult following with 200,000 meals sold each week across online and 1200 retailers, including Harris Farm Markets and IGA.
Menon, a self-confessed gym fanatic, had struggled to find a convenience meal range with the calories and nutrition needed for his level of training as the market was dominated by diet dinners.
He initially designed the range to suit gym-going males like himself, but realised that there was a demand for healthy and tasty meal options from both males and females at all stages of their health and fitness journey.
“Over time, we’ve evolved into a functional food business. And that’s really been the key to our growth,” Menon told Inside FMCG.
MMC meals are nutritionally balanced with protein, carbohydrates and fats to cater for specific goals.
A key turning point for the business was the transition from frozen to fresh, a necessary switch to keep health-conscious consumers on side.
“Logistically that was obviously a challenge,” Menon said.
“We had to change our entire production structure and all the systems that we had. The convenience of the frozen product is you can hold stock for a period of time but with the fresh product, with 14 to 15 days shelf life, we need to be producing every day, which we weren’t doing in the past.”
With the help of experienced food manufacturers, they successfully transitioned to new processes.
Now the meal company produces 63 different meals, with 10 vegan meals added to the range in 2019.
“That’s something we are very proud of. We came up with an entire range in 12 weeks from start to finish and launched into market.
“It got to the point where we were getting so many inquiries from customers asking for vegan products, we decided we’d have to jump onto it.”
The response to the vegan meals has been very positive, with many of those who traditionally purchased meat dinners now including four or five vegan meals in their box each week.
The majority (70 per cent) of their business is done online, with 30 per cent through retail. A strong and nimble delivery network was needed to come through on that promise of convenience for online customers.
They offer delivery seven days a week in metro areas and six to seven days in other areas. They also cover most regional areas with a lead time of three to four days.
MMC is also on the front foot with sustainability, with vacuum skin packaging giving an extra seven to eight days shelf life and instructions in the cardboard insulated delivery boxes on how to recycle the packaging.
In the next 12 to 18 months they will be introducing a fully biodegradable meal tray.
“There is a huge push for this in Europe, where we source a lot of our equipment and our packaging machinery so they’re already working on products where your meal tray is biodegradable. At the moment our meal trays are recyclable but not biodegradable.
“We’re hoping to have that within the next 12 months so that all the packaging from the sleeve to the film to the tray will be completely biodegradable.”